tv Tavis Smiley PBS August 5, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT
good evening, los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with the incomparable angela lansbury. for some seven decades now, she's delighted and impressed audiences on broadway and television, of course, 69 years after her first oscar nomination for "gaslight" and 54 years since her last. the academy has finally honored her for a long overdue oscar. we are glad you joined us, a conversation with angela lansbury coming up right now. ♪
and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ for seven decades, angela lansbury has impressed with us iconic performances and different as the terrifying mother and small town literary sleuth in "murder, she wrote," for which she received emmy nominations. that would be one for every year the series was on the air. she, of course, has also garnered five tony awards for her work on broadway and just last month received a long
overdue special oscar for an outstanding career. here, a clip now from that event. ♪ [ cheers and applause ] >> you have no idea. oh, my god. oh. oh, this is amazing. what an incredible moment. gosh, what an 11:00 number. >> how special was that? >> it came absolutely out of the blue. i had no idea that such a thing could happen, you know, it never occurred to me, so when they told me, they didn't tell me, my son told me. he called me up on the telephone when i was driving in from the airport. he said, mom, i have something very interesting to tell you and important, so call me back. so i called him back and he
said, darling, i just wanted you to know that you have been chosen to receive an honorary academy award. and i said, oh, burst into tears, of course. you know, because it was so unexpected, and quite wonderful. and i thought it's been worth hanging around all these years. >> we talk about it, you've done more than just hang around. you've done good work in the intervening years, and we'll talk about that in a moment, but this is a long way, this honorary academy, is a long way from your first nomination for "gaslight," you were, what, 17 when you made the film, 18 when you were nominated. >> uh-huh. >> and for some people, that would be the highlight of a career, but for you it was just really the beginning. >> well, you can put yourself in my shoes in those days, i was a kid. i didn't know -- all i knew how to do was to act. that's the only thing i had in my favor, and that was the thing
that propelled me forward, but everything that was going on around me was new, i couldn't really adjust to it, you know, as a kid, i just was a contract player at mgm studios. they put me into, goodness knows, how much different roles. some of them were wonderful and some of them were very -- just distasteful and awful, because i was playing out of my age range, and i was thoroughly uncomfortable. let's put it that way. so it took me many years to find my acting feet, you know what i mean? >> how did you go about finding your feet? >> well, oddly enough, i liken the years at mgm, and i was there for about eight years, to being -- to doing stock, you know, what we used to call repertoire or stock, playing a whole bunch of different roles. you learn a great deal that you can feed into your craft, which gives you the experience that you actually need later on when you start to get the really
great roles. you've played that part to a certain degree in that picture, and you played that one in that, and so on, and you add it all up and you have that experience. so, actually, the years when i was playing totally un -- well, they were just roles that went by the board you wouldn't want to know. anyway, i'm glad i had that chance, to build my craft. >> what do you make of why you had that chance? and i ask because when you were in that distasteful period, to use your word, of doing these roles that weren't you, out of character, out of your age range, there was no guarantee, there never is in this business, that those great roles that you referenced were ever going to come, yet you didn't get depressed after hitting it so high with "gaslight," you stayed with it. >> i did, and i don't know -- i really wanted to go back to the theater, the live theater.
that was the thing i had never had a chance to do, even though i had trained to be a stage actress, therefore, when i opened up in "gaslight," for instance, playing that maid, that all came about from my experience and my training up to that point, and so nothing was wasted. everything i did actually helped to build the revenues, shall we say, of experience, which enabled me to play a variety of roles as i got older. >> is that good advice for life, that nothing is ever wasted? >> i would say so. it sounds like a trite thing to say, but, in fact, it's absolutely true, and i don't care whether it's a chance meeting, or playing a role that you thought was totally wrong but you did it anyway, it will often turn out to be the thing that will lead you to the role which is sublime, you know, so
you can't tell. you just have to be open and ready and let it all happen. >> doesn't sound trite at all. at 88, you should know. that's why i thought i should ask you the question. you have experience. >> a certain amount of experience, and the thing i say, i wasn't out reaching for roles, wasn't fighting for roles, people came to me. they always came to me, and roles came to me. i was very, very lucky in that respect. great directors, great writers, great producers. they saw something in me that they wanted for their picture or their play or whatever it was. whether it was edward albey, you know, peter hall, director, they would come to me, thank god. you know? i was lucky, lucky, lucky. >> before i get too far into this conversation, and i don't want to color this question anymore than this, tell me about your mother. >> well, my mother was one of
the most beautiful women, i have to say, of her generation. she was absolutely lovely. she was a very extremely sensitive irish actress. she came from belfast, northern ireland, and she came to london and she was sort of discovered by several, several people, one of them was the great actor, producer, gerald demoire, also a great leading man, and he chose her after she'd done a few little parts. incidentally, the interesting thing is, i'm going to go to london, and i'm jumping the gun here, i'm going to london next month practically, yes, to recreate a role i did on broadway, which was madam acarte in "blithe spirit." i'm going to be at the gilligan
theater, a very old theater, the globe, and the globe is where my mother made her very first professional appearance in london, was at the globe theater. and i wish i could remember the name, i should have written it down. my memory about names and places now is dreadful, but lines i can remember. >> that's important. >> that's a different compartment of the brain, let me assure you. >> but it must be special, though. i think the point you were about to make was, this was your first time on this stage? >> in london? >> in this play on this stage? >> in this play in london, yes, never done it there. no, no, no. but, you know, they are great devotees of noel coward in england, he's a favorite son, and to play coward in london is such fun. anyway, the role is such a crazy lady, you know, i just love doing that. >> how do you process all these years later being on the stage
where your mother first started? >> well, in fact, it hadn't really kind of come in and centered in my mind until now, where i really -- because i have played london before, gypsy and also the old vic, you know, i've done other shows in london, but not for 40 years. i'm back to london for 40 years to do a play. so to play there, i think she would be tickled to death, knowing that was what i was doing, i hope she would. she was a wonderfully unique and very special, very darling woman. >> yeah. i've had the honor of seeing you on stage a couple of times, most recently with james earl jones. >> good, yeah. >> wonderful production. and you intimated a moment ago that the memory for lines is in a different compartment. it is amazing to me, i recently saw sicily tyson on broadway. >> there you go.
>> wonderful production, and she is 88. >> yes. >> and you are 88. >> yes. >> and i am stunned every time i see it and watch her, or watch you, pull this off, the craft, the artistry, the timing, but the memory, i quite don't get it, how you remember all those lines. >> well, i know what you're saying, and i wonder myself. because, you know, i just came back from a six-month tour of driving miss daisy with james earl and we had the most wonderful -- and that's a huge role. she never shuts up, she never stops talking. she's shouting, she's screaming, all with this thick southern accent, you know, and anyway, we had a fantastic time, incidentally. i got to tell you. he's a wonderful guy, and we got along like a house on fire, which is fantastic.
in fact, we may do another show next year, we were talking about that. >> how long in advance of a production like blithe spirit in london are you practicing? you've done this before, of course, but still you got to get those lines down again. what's your process? >> well, quite frankly, i usually arrive at the first rehearsal, you know, with a vague, vague memory of most of it, but the real work happens in rehearsal, oddly enough, because what happens is, you match the words to the movement, and once you know where you're moving, the words that accompany that movement become not locked into your mind and your brain and your whole body. so it's a process, which all actors go through, and it's better not to try to learn all the lines by wrote.
it's a very bad idea, in fact. you have to do it by using the process. as i say, the process is to learn during rehearsals and that's how you'll do it. >> this question, speaking of rehears rehearsals, ms. lansbury. >> angela, good lord, you make me seem 89. >> i could never call you angela. >> i'm angie to everybody. you got to learn. >> okay, i'll work on that, ms. lansbury. >> you're hopeless. >> i've been told that many times, that i'm hopeless. this question is as much philosophical as it is practical. but give me your word about what you have learned over the years about the value of rehearsal, for all of us, about rehearsing. >> well, it's not only part of, it's the integral part of learning the character that you're playing in relation to the other characters.
in other words, you learn to work with your co-actors. you learn the values that are inherent in the scene that the writer has written. you learn about who you as a character are in relation to those others who are working with you, within that scene, psychologically, you learn the values that are inherent in the dialogue, and you learn to apply it to the way you read the lines. and that's acting. you're not yourself saying those lines. you're somebody else. and, therefore, finding that other person that you're going to be portraying is really, that's what you're going for, is just to create a complete character that isn't angela lansbury, but is, you know, the lady you're playing. so, it's just a process, and it
takes time. it takes five, four, five, six weeks during the course of rehearsal, to nail that individual, who is not you, but somebody else. >> because you have nailed this career, because you have become such an artistic genius at your craft, i sometimes wonder whether or not persons like you feel like they have missed out on other parts of life because they have been so laser focused, to our benefit, but so laser focused on their particular -- >> yes, yes, i do. i do feel that oftentimes. i think, my goodness, what you have let pass by you because you were so busy doing what you do, you didn't have the time, you know, it's funny, but you centered on something which i thought about recently, and, of course, the older i get, the more i realize how much i have missed, because i was so busy
entertaining that audience, and so busy pursuing a career, although i can't say that i pursued a career. i really didn't. it just sort of happened. i was there, and i was asked, so i did it. and i very seldom said no, and i was aided and abetted by my husband, who realized that the one thing i could do was to be a very good actress, by his note. i just went along for the ride. it was a god-given gift. it is. so you can't say, well, you wasted your life because you spent all of it acting, but i think, gosh, i've never been to china. i've never been to japan, i've never been to yellowstone park. i keep saying, i must go to yellowstone park and yosemite and i've never been. >> my mother keeps telling me i should go to yosemite.
maybe we should go together. >> there was a wonderful program on radio as i was driving in the car yesterday and this man was talking about yosemite and how absolutely, you know, it's a spiritual experience to go there. we've got to go. >> we will go together. >> all right. >> we'll make it a date. when you get back from london, we'll make it a date. the flip side i was thinking as you were talking, the flip side of what you might have missed out on is the joy, the sublime joy, that you have given to others through your performances. this requires you to set your modesty aside for just a second, but how do you process what you have been blessed to give at your best to the audience? to the viewers, be they television viewers, movie watchers, broadway enthusiasts. >> i honestly consider that the greatest gift to me, is the
reaction that i get from my work. that is a given, which i never, ever take for granted. but to be given back by audiences, individuals on the street, in the theater, is extraordinary feeling to know that you have lifted people out of their own sadness in some instances, loss, you know, all those things that people suffer in life, pretty terrific. to be able to elevate, elevate others, human spirits, and if you can do it, i think it's important. >> yeah. you're about to make me cry, and there's no crying on pbs. >> no, no. >> you're about to make me tear up, and i'm tearing up in part
because i feel how authentic that expression was for you, but i'm also tearing up in part because i recall the very first time i saw you in person, i was with two friends of mine, we were in a restaurant walking into a restaurant in new york, and it was fascinating for me, i recall, having this conversation at the time you were not in a performance, but you weren't even in a performance, so it's not like a show had just let out and you were walking into a restaurant. you were just walking into a restaurant with your son, by the way, and a couple other people, but you walked into this restaurant that i was sitting in with some friends of mine, when you walked into the restaurant and you sat a couple tables over from me, people started applauding when you walked in, and i thought that was, like -- and i was one of the persons applauding, but it was the most interesting thing, the response to you was so overwhelming. you walked in and people just started to applaud. it was near the theater district in new york, but they just
started applauding. i was like, that must be an awfully good to just be celebrated for your lifelong contribution in that way. >> well, it is. it is. it's very moving, and i don't know how to respond, because i can't say that -- i can't say i deserve it. i don't. i've just been around long enough. they say my god, she's still here. >> does that mean if i get 88, they'll applaud when i get in somewhere? >> yes. >> they'll be like, boo! >> no, no, people are applauding you right now, my darling. you don't have to wait to be 88, believe you me, i'll applaud you any day. >> i was just reading the other day that they are going to bring back "murder, she wrote," i shouldn't say bring back, because what you did i don't think can be brought back, but they are going to launch another run of "murder, she wrote" with
a wonderful actress, octavia spencer, but i want to get your take on this, i am so over hollywood and all these remakes, as if we don't have any creativity in this town to do anything different. that's my sense. what's your take on your show being -- >> well, i honestly feel that "murder, she wrote" stands alone, you know, as many of the other great shows of the past 35, 40 years do, it stands alone. and it's still on, it's still all over the world, "murder, she wrote," jessica fletcher and "murder, she wrote," so i just think octavia's too good for that. why should she, why should she be, you know, given an opportunity? she's doing wonderful movies, for goodness sakes. why would she want to do a television series that's so well known because of all the lovely old places and characters that the audience knows so well.
why should she just pick up on something like that? i don't get it. and also, i say, well, they are just buying the title, because it's got nothing to do with our "murder, she wrote." we know that. i think she was going to play an important nurse in a hospital who became involved in solving crimes. so i don't know, but i think they are making -- just making a stupid error. >> speaking of your "murder, she wrote" -- >> she deserves better, damn it. she's playing some great roles at the moment in movies, for gosh sakes. >> she's in a movie now, was in a movie, that i hope will get academy level, "fruit vail station." >> wonderful picture. >> i love that picture gets some love, academy voters. can i do that on tv? i think i just did. >> i'll second that. >> speaking of "murder, she wrote," your "murder, she wrote," how do you situate that, as you look back on your career,
how do you situate that 12-year run? >> yeah, extraordinary, money. >> it paid the bills, huh? "murder, she wrote," cash she made. >> i've been out of the movies for years, i had a wonderful stage career, yes, musicals and so on, but you don't really make any money in the theater, so every theater actor or actress who has the opportunity, and i remember saying to peter, i said, i think it's time for me to go to television. we needed that annuity, you know what i mean? you know, we had a family. you don't make any money, as i say, in the theater, in the long run. you used to in the old days. >> you do it, why? the love of it? >> the love of it. i didn't intend to do it for 12 years, that was extraordinary, but i chose it very, very carefully. i knew this was a woman that i really could -- i could be that woman very carefully, very
steadily, if i just allowed myself to go with the flow. so i did. i didn't act it. i just did it. >> i got 45 seconds left, and i cannot close this show without asking you, at 88, how physically you do it. you look marvelous, you're sharp as ever. >> with a lot of help from my friends, doctors. i'm the bionic woman. i have a very strong constitution, and i take excruciatingly good care of myself. >> yeah. well, i'm thankful for that, as we all are. >> sounds very selfish. i don't mean to sound selfish. >> not at all. you're not at all, and that did not come across that way. i am grateful for this opportunity, we've talked on radio before, but i've been waiting for the balance of my career to finally get you in this chair, on this set, and it finally happened. >> oh, tavis, so dear of you to say so.
you know, i am such a fan of yours and when i'm in new york, i just watch you every night. >> i appreciate it, i appreciate it. >> you're the best, absolutely the best. >> you are the best. i'll be celebrating you when you start in march. >> uh-huh. >> live in london. >> right. i'll be there. >> at the globe. >> we open around the 18th, something like that. we'll be there until june. then i'm coming back for my grandson's wedding. >> after that we're going to yosemite. >> right, off to yosemite, it's a deal. >> angela lansbury, love her. that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley, join me next time for a conversation about the new autobiography spirit rising, my life, my music. that's next time. we'll see you then. that's next time. we'll see you then. ♪